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Joint Working in the UK – Are Pharmaceutical Industry-Payer Partnerships at Tipping Point?

10 May 2012 Cameron Lockwood

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has been busy at work on the "joint working" front. At the end of March, the Ethical Standards in Health and Life Sciences Group (ESHLSG), a new multi-stakeholder entity within the organisation, launched new guidance on joint working between industry and the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Comprised of representatives from the health service, life sciences industry and government, the group was formed to promote industry/NHS collaboration and address any issues or reputational risks that arise out of this activity.

Come Together, Right Now
The recently issued guidance establishes a number of core principles for joint working, enumerates a list of things that joint-working partners should keep in mind (e.g. the pharmaceutical industry is integral to UK R&D), and spells out some 'DOs and DON'Ts' that industry and healthcare professionals should be aware of in the day-to-day of partnership working.

The document also seeks to allay health service concerns over collaborating with pharma, and dispel NHS wariness of industry, something which has been noted as a significant barrier to uptake of joint working in the UK. The ESHLSG guidance directs NHS staff not to establish "blanket policies" against collaboration, nor to be "tempted to accept the negative myths about cooperating with industry," and warns them that opportunities for improving patient care may be missed due to misconceptions based on "historical practices" or the unacceptable behaviours of the few.

Things Begin to Snowball for Joint working
The ABPI has not dropped the joint-working gauntlet, having in recent years established a team of regional coordinators to match up potential NHS and industry partners, developed dedicated guidelines and a toolkit with the Department of Health, and teamed up with the NHS Confederation to promote successful projects through the latter organisation's network. Earlier this year, another organisation, NHS Primary Care Commissioning, proposed a role for social media in joint working.

And, just the other week at its annual conference, the ABPI launched a dedicated "partnership team" made up of industry representatives - one for each of the four transitional Strategic Health Authority clusters in England, as well as a representative who will provide strategic oversight. This team will work to promote partnership development at the regional level - without promoting "individual companies or products," in the words of the ABPI.

Striking While the Iron is Hot
Timing is everything, and a change in NHS attitudes towards joint working and industry at large may be aided by the changing of the commissioning guard (as a result of healthcare reform in England). The research conducted for our study on payer-industry partnerships revealed that GPs (groups of whom are replacing Primary Care Trust commissioners) are in many cases the driving forces for joint-working projects, serving as politically-savvy and well-connected stakeholders. What is more, joint working should be further helped along by a budgetary environment that will require payers to get creative in finding resources.

And now, the latest guidance put out by the ESHLSG has been endorsed by 18 different organisations within the UK, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians.

Efforts on the UK joint-working front may finally be starting to reach tipping point - watch this space!

You can download a free extract of our study Payer - Industry Partnerships: Best Practices for Successful Market Access of New Pharmaceuticalshere.

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